C/O Lohifa Pogoson Acker

New Blk-Owned Hamont and BACEL training program helping Black-owned businesses grow 

Blk-Owned Hamont, started in June 2020 by Ashleigh, Alexandria and Abygail Montague, continues to model what it means to celebrate, showcase, explore and support Black-owned businesses through the new Black Youth Entrepreneurship Hub (BYEH): Trailblazer bootcamp

BYEH: Trailblazer bootcamp was created in partnership with Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA)’s Black African and Caribbean Entrepreneurship (BACEL) Training Program. Trailblazer is an 8-week program, running from March 5 to April 14, for Black-identifying entrepreneurs aged 18 to 39.  

As part of the program, attendees will have the chance to hear from guest speakers, mentors and coaches on topics such as marketing, sales, supply chain management and many more. The cost to sign-up is $200, however, the fee will be reimbursed by the BBPA upon successful completion of the curriculum.   

First bootcamp day. C/O Ashleigh Montague

Trailblazer consists of bootcamp and workshop days. Bootcamp days will explore multiple areas of business operation and management.  

In contrast, the weekly Workshop Wednesdays will delve deeper into more specific topics covered during the bootcamp and are optional and free for the campers. The public can also attend the workshops for a fee of $25.00 per session. Registration can be done through Blk-Owned Hamont’s Eventbrite.  

“[The workshops] give the large community an opportunity to see what it is that we are teaching in our cohort program . . . We also saw it as a great opportunity for folks who may not yet be sold on the bootcamp that they could give these workshops a try,” said Ashleigh Montague.   

In addition, the program offers mentorship and networking for participants.  

“What we’re hoping the business owners will take away are new skills they can use to tap into their business for growth, resources they can take away and apply to their businesses for growth, as well as, hopefully an expanded network,” said Montague.  

Trailblazer mentors. C/O Lohifa Pogoson Acker

The idea for Trailblazers came about last summer. The Montague sisters behind Blk-Owned Hamont wanted to address barriers for Black business owners and they conducted a feasibility study to better understand the existing gaps. From February through June 2021, the Montague sisters connected with over 100 business owners in Hamilton and ran a focus group.  

The results of the survey and their focus group showed a need for Black business owners to develop skills, have greater access to resources and build networks. The sisters also found most of the Black Hamilton business owners were young, in the age group of 17 to 45.  

The findings of the study led to the first Blk-Owned pop-up market in August 2021. Efforts to launch BYEH began shortly after.  

In total, 11 entrepreneur and business owners signed up to the pilot program and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. The feedback form after the first bootcamp day revealed the participants enjoyed being able to engage in the program in-person, felt safe to share their experiences and enjoyed hearing from the speakers and facilitators.  

“It was just so amazing to hear that our hard work over the last year was for something positive,” said Montague.  

Aside from the Trailblazer program, Blk-Owned Hamont has organized numerous markets and grown drastically over the past year.  

CO Rose Senat 

Through counsel with their advisory team, lawyers and consultants who helped conduct the feasibility study, Blk-Owned Hamont launched their social enterprise, BMRKT, to continue highlighting local businesses while continuing Blk-Owned, which will continue to focus on education, advocacy and research.  

During Black history month, Blk-Owned Hamont also organized a merchandise box in partnership with McMaster Innovation Park. Purchase of one vendor boxes allows folks to support up to nine business owners in the greater Hamilton area. It has been a success and they have already sold over 90 vendor boxes. The organization released Black History Month hoodies as well, designed by Aaron Parry, a McMaster alum. The colours in the BLK logo are representative of various skin tones.  

Coming soon, Spring Ting market is scheduled to be held in St. Catharines on April 10. It is open to vendors in the greater Hamilton and Niagara regions. In May, they are hoping to organize a party event on James Street North. It will be in collaboration with local Black-owned storefronts.  

With all the work Blk-Owned Hamont has done and is continuing to do, the Montague sisters continue to be at the forefront of change in support of local Black-owned businesses. 

C/O Khadija Hamidu

McMaster alumna Khadija Hamidu has created an online platform to showcase Black culture and the BIPOC community in Hamilton

Activism and social justice movements around the world have greatly shaped this past year. Across Canada and the United States, thousands of people joined in on public demonstrations, protests and initiatives, like defunding the police, while other forms of activism and support took place online. Melanin Market Hamilton is one of the many online communities that have emerged during the pandemic in response to these social justice movements. 

Founded in late January of this year, Melanin Market Hamilton is a project started by Khadija Hamidu, McMaster University alumna of 2016 and now an executive director of Workforce Planning Hamilton. The Instagram page represents her love for community development. It aims to highlight and celebrate Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) creators, businesses, achievements and opportunities in Hamilton. Previously, the page has featured Blackspace, a student-run club at McMaster, as well. 

The Instagram page represents her love for community development. It aims to highlight and celebrate Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) creators, businesses, achievements and opportunities in Hamilton.

“I started doing experiential learning at McMaster and then going into community developing. And that's what made me fall in love with community work and community development as a whole.” explained Hamidu.

Prior to starting the Instagram page, Hamidu worked at the YMCA Hamilton as a teacher. She forged a real connection to the Hamilton community during her time at McMaster and had decided to stay in the city. Although her passion for community work dates back to her undergraduate years doing experiential learning, it wasn’t until the pandemic she found the spark she needed to start Melanin Market Hamilton. 

“I think the pandemic just started this whole new era of Khadija—trying to do new things, trying to focus on things that truly make me happy. Things that I really wanted to focus on was definitely something that highlighted the change of the pandemic,” explained Hamidu.

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A post shared by Melanin Market Hamilton (@melaninmarket.hamont)

Hamidu recognized the struggles of the small businesses during the pandemic and she was inspired to create a platform for them. Melanin Market distinguishes itself from Blk Owned Hamont, an online space for Black entrepreneurs and businesses to showcase themselves, by carrying a broader focus on the BIPOC community as a whole. 

“I think there's a huge community here that needs to be almost uplifted and I wanted to be a part of that and give people the opportunity to showcase the work through my lens, through Melanin Market,” said Hamidu.

“I think there's a huge community here that needs to be almost uplifted and I wanted to be a part of that and give people the opportunity to showcase the work through my lens, through Melanin Market.”

Khadija Hamidu, Melanin Market Hamilton Founder

As part of this goal, Hamidu runs a series called Spotlight Fridays on the page where she interviews BIPOC creators, leaders and business owners, sharing their missions and goals with her audience. 

She is also looking for more collaborative projects with local organizations to better connect members of the community. For instance, she has been talking to Hamilton Bike Share to organize outdoor activities for the Black community and promote healthy living.

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A post shared by Melanin Market Hamilton (@melaninmarket.hamont)

“I think we as Hamiltonians are very proud, and I want to be able to put that into the Black community as well because we are very much focused on local businesses . . . but sometimes, I don’t see that transferring over to the Black community. I want to be able to connect the two a little bit more,” said Hamidu. 

“I think we as Hamiltonians are very proud, and I want to be able to put that into the Black community as well because we are very much focused on local businesses . . . but sometimes, I don’t see that transferring over to the Black community. I want to be able to connect the two a little bit more.”

Khadija Hamidu, Melanin Market Hamilton Founder

Engagement on Melanin Market Hamilton has been great so far. In the early days of operating the platform, Hamidu had to search for businesses and people to feature by visiting different parts of Hamilton and scrolling through social media. However, more people have begun to reach out to her as well. It has grown into a platform well appreciated by both folks from Hamilton and other cities such as Montreal where she promoted a few businesses during her trip there this summer.

“Being able to celebrate the Black community, no matter where I am, I think is the ultimate goal. I’m the type of person to always embrace where I currently am . . . It was just transitioning from Hamilton to Montreal but still keeping the same theme alive,” said Hamidu.

For Hamidu personally, Melanin Market has opened many doors for new connections. Prior to starting the Instagram page, Hamidu explains she very much disliked Instagram and was unaware of groups like Blk Owned Hamont that existed to celebrate the Black community in Hamilton. However, through this initiative, she has been able to discover new businesses and people she never knew existed before. 

Moving forward, she is excited about expanding her work as a community connector and increasing her outreach to include more collaborations with other organizations. 

“The love of Hamilton is clear. I’m happy to be a part of this community and I’m happy to showcase the work that’s being done in this community as much as I possibly can. My love for Hamilton is always going to be here and it’s just connecting the two between my love of the Black community and Black culture as well as the Hamilton area,” said Hamidu. 

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